When a federal rule requiring truckers to track their driving time with digital electronic logging devices started in December, many said the regulation would destroy their businesses. Some quit the industry.
Although myriad technical hiccups with the devices created problems when the mandate went into effect, the industry is learning to live with the new rule. Some truckers say the devices have provided relief from the pressure under the old paper logging system to cheat and get extra miles on the road.
“I wouldn’t drive if I had to go back to paper,” said Joel Morrow, an owner-operator from Ohio.
The ELD regulation is intended to ensure that truckers comply with a federal hours-of-service rule. The rule limits driving to no more than 11 hours a day within a 14-hour workday. Drivers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours. Under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules, drivers and their employers can be fined thousands of dollars if their devices show hours-of-service violations.
“At a previous company I drove for, as long as your receipts matched, they didn’t care what you did with your logs. They always pushed you,” said Clark Reed, a driver for Nussbaum Transportation in Hudson, Ill.
Other drivers tell a similar story.
“They would never outright tell you to [cheat], but if you didn’t get it done, suddenly you were being given some really crappy runs,” said Henry Albert, a veteran owner-operator.
Since the FMCSA launched strict enforcement of the regulation earlier this year, hours-of-service violations have declined. Last December, 1.2 percent of roadside inspections produced violations for not having ELDs, but that rate has been below 0.7 percent in each of the past four months, according to FMCSA data. Roadside hours-of-service violations plummeted from 16.8 percent of trucks inspected in May 2017 to 9.5 percent in May 2018.
“It’s still early in the process, but the data is going in the right direction,” said Dan Horvath, director of safety policy for the American Trucking Associations.
The FMCSA phased in enforcement of the regulation to “give people a little bit of extra time to adjust, both industry and law enforcement, and what we’ve seen, especially since April 1, is that compliance is really high,” said Joe DeLorenzo, director of the FMCSA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance.
Nonetheless, some in the trucking industry object to the digital monitoring of drivers.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association remains firmly against the mandate, said Norita Taylor, the trade group’s spokeswoman.
The group has mounted several legal challenges to the rule but has been rebuffed.
In June the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not consider a petition by the OOIDA to hear its argument against the Department of Transportation and the FMCSA requirement to install ELDs in heavy-duty trucks.
“I’m hoping that challenges to ELDs are done in the legal sense,” Ray Martinez, administrator of the FMCSA, told Trucks.com. “The temperature has certainly gone down.”
Still the OOIDA plans to continue its fight.
“The feedback we’re getting from our members is that ELDs don’t improve safety and may actually decrease safety by making them feel more pressed for time,” Taylor said. “They’re being micro-managed down to the nanosecond.”
Truckers have reported problems with the devices, Taylor said. Some drivers have had trouble getting ELDs to track time and transfer data accurately. They told Trucks.com that some of the devices were reporting that drivers were hundreds of miles from their actual locations.
The FMCSA allows ELD manufacturers to self-certify on a federal registry that their devices work. It does not check every device.
The regulation is creating other problems, she said. Drivers are finding that they must end their workdays sooner than normal to allow time to find a place to park. They also are having to park more often along interstate ramps. According to the American Transportation Research Institute, truck drivers spend about an hour looking for parking every day.
But others said complaints about ELDs were misplaced.
“I was in a traffic jam recently, and everybody started cussing about their ELDs,” Albert said. “I’m like, ‘The ELDs and the hours of service aren’t the problem. The problem is the traffic jam.’ All an ELD does is make the true problems visible.”
Reed said that ELDs had improved drivers’ jobs.
“Instead of breaking things into 15-minute increments like we used to with paper logs, it’s down to the minute,” Reed said. “If it only takes me 10 minutes to fuel, I’m saving those five minutes. I have more drive time.”
But there’s no going over the drive time anymore. Drivers need to plan better and figure ways to be efficient, Reed said.
Drivers are “either going to figure it out or they’re going to go out of business,” Albert said.